Opinion: Libs’ wimp debate on gay marriage

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“WE are Australia’s smallest parliament in a small jurisdiction” – too small, Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson would have us believe – to make decisions on issues such as gay marriage.

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson.
Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson.

The ramifications go well beyond this wimpish approach to marriage equality. The stance should trick no one as being anything other than an opaque excuse not to participate in the vote on gay marriage.

Look at the nonsense of the argument. If the ACT is too small to consider issues, what about the NT, which has about two thirds of our population? What about Tasmania that has a smaller GDP than the ACT? Where does the proposition leave SA which is just a tad bigger than the others? Or Queensland? And what about WA, which is a long way away and has a three-hour time difference? Should all decisions of national significance be left to Victoria and NSW just because they are the biggest States? It is a nonsense argument!

Mr Hanson told the Assembly: “We do not think that a majority of one person in the ACT should change the definition of marriage for a country of over 23 million people”.

A reminder is pertinent – one vote made Tony Abbott leader of the Federal Liberals and on to leadership of the same 23 million people!

Rather than being straight, the Liberals were simply finding an argument to suit their purpose. Some of the Liberal MLAs do support gay marriage; Hanson even named newly elected MLA, Nicole Lawder. In my view, even though it would not have changed the outcome of the vote, it would have been better for her own reputation, better for the community, better for her party and for the Assembly if she had voted according to her conscience instead of being caught up in the pretence.

There was a second leg to the argument of convenience.

“We believe that this issue belongs in the Commonwealth Parliament. It is a Federal issue, and there are a wide range of sound legal opinions that support that position”, is how Mr Hanson started his speech in the Assembly.

“And consequently this legislation will be challenged in the High Court”.

However, a High Court challenge is just that, a way of determining whether or not the power does lie with the States and Territories or with the Commonwealth. If parliaments around Australia buckled every time there was a legal opinion against what they were trying to achieve, very little legislation would even come before parliaments.

It is far too common for governments and oppositions to seek legal opinions that suit themselves and, while they should be acknowledged, they should be treated as debating points.

Of greater concern than the arguments themselves is that the proposition has been put forward by Jeremy Hanson, as the leader of the “alternative government”.

It provides an insight into his approach and that of his shadow ministers in the parliament and in ministerial councils. Will they buckle every time an alternative legal opinion is dropped under their nose rather than demonstrating the courage to have their belief tested? When representing the ACT in COAG or other ministerial councils, will they retain the same pathetic concept about the ACT being a small jurisdiction and not really being a full player at the table?

We have elected all of the members of the Legislative Assembly to represent the views of the ACT, to vote on issues as they see them. This type of spurious argument should be left to one side while the MLAs get on with the job they were elected to do.

 

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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